Brics member states must find common ground to balance Western interests

Each member has a different relationship with the US or EU. Yet, it is important to articulate common positions in areas of convergence to balance the norms emerging from the West based solely on trans-Atlantic interests

opinion Updated: Sep 06, 2017 17:35 IST
At the 9th Brics Summit, China broadened the outreach by inviting Thailand, Tajikistan, Egypt, Guinea, and Mexico, stretching across Asia, Africa and Latin America(AFP)

The just-concluded ninth Brics summit in Xiamen, China, had attracted more than the usual attention because of the preceding month-and-a-half tense standoff between India and China at Doklam, and the sixth nuclear test conducted by North Korea coinciding with its start.

Questions were also raised about continued relevance of Brics since two of its members (India and China) had serious differences, geopolitical rivalries and intensifying competition in the Indian Ocean, South Asia and Southeast Asia; two other members (India and Russia) were seen as somewhat drifting apart with India building closer relations with the United States and Europe, and Russia getting more linked to China and exploring new opportunities, including military, in Pakistan; and two (South Africa and Brazil) bedevilled by political and economic instability. This was a far cry from the beginning of this century when the concept was promoted as an investment marketing strategy by western financial firms, and taken forward by the five countries also as a check on post-1990 western unipolar dominance.

Despite its detractors, the summit and its outcomes showed that the Brics process remains relevant. The five countries--Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa--account for 42% of the world’s population, 23% of global GDP, 17% of international trade, and nearly 50% of growth in recent past.

Despite the shifts in relative global economic and political standing, especially with increase in China and India’s GDP since 2000, there is still a need to work for “a more just, equitable, fair, democratic and representative international political and economic order” as the Xiamen declaration reiterates. Multi-polarity is essential for India to exercise its “strategic autonomy”, a declared goal of India’s foreign policy.

Support was also expressed for “an open world economy” since both India and China grew in framework of global growth and rising exports, and both are concerned about the protectionist sentiments in the West, particularly US. Commitment was reiterated to work for “enhancement of the voice and representation of BRICS countries… in global economic governance”, including shares and voting rights in the World Bank and IMF, where progress has been made, but much remains to be done. A call was made to fully implement the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, threatened by the US disavowal, and importance of “green development and low carbon economy” recognised. Common positions were articulated inter alia on Syria and Afghanistan, the North Korean test “deplored” with call for “peaceful means and direct dialogue”.

Issues that these summits have deliberated on remain important in the global context. The first Bric summit (South Africa joined from 2011) was held in 2009, in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. Brics nations usually met and coordinated positions also in the framework of discussions in G20 (grouping of major world economies, set up at initiative of US and France in 2008, stimulated by the financial crisis) and the UN. The common positions they adopted on international trade and finance, global financial architecture and governance, quotas and voting shares in the World Bank and IMF, were important to balance Western perspectives and interests.

Starting with the 2013 summit in South Africa, the group expressed common positions on regional and global political issues, and began outreach to regional partners of the host country. African and Latin American countries, those from the Eurasian Economic Union and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BIMSTEC were, in turn, invited to post-summit outreach. This time, China somewhat changed the pattern and broadened the outreach by inviting Thailand, Tajikistan, Egypt, Guinea, and Mexico, stretching across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The process, aside from developing an infrastructure of institutional and political links, has concrete outcomes such as operationalising the New Development Bank and Contingency Reserve Arrangement.

From India’s perspective, the summit declaration has strong language on terrorism and specifically names some Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Pakistan’s reaction, at such references from a meeting hosted in China, following the strong language used by US President Donald Trump on August 21, revealed its anxiety. The summit also provided an opportunity for a post-Doklam bilateral between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both sides subsequently described the encounter as forward looking, aimed at strengthening mechanisms and interactions to try and prevent or manage better recurrence of such incidents.

Each of the five Brics nations now have a different relationship with the US and Europe. Russia is under sanctions, following developments in Ukraine and Crimea. With China, the West has deep economic, trade and financial integration, but differences related to South China Sea and Chinese trade and currency practices. India is developing closer relations, but has continued strong political and defence partnership with Russia, and a relationship marked by both cooperation and competition with China.

It is still important for countries with such different parameters in their relations with the major world powers, and difference in their relations with each other, to articulate common positions in areas of convergence to balance the norms emerging from the West based solely on trans-Atlantic interests. Strong groupings such as Nato, EU and Eurozone also have serious differences among members, but work to build on areas of common interest and challenge perception.

Arun K Singh is a former Indian Ambassador to the United States

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 06, 2017 17:26 IST